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SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 (Day 11)

It’s Day 11 of the Nagoya Basho and there’s been only a slight change on the leaderboard. Hakuho remains undefeated at the top, followed by Aoiyama with one loss, and a group of three rikishi with two losses (M10 Chiyotaryu having fallen out of this group after losing to Aoiyama yesterday). 

There was lots of terrific sumo yesterday, but only one match that folks are talking about. Holy cats, did you see the Takayasu vs. Ura bout?!? One of the top judges was quotes as saying that the sport hasn’t seen anything like that in 600 years . . . and with sumo, that’s not hyperbole. Unfortunately, Ura walked away from it limping (it looked like he banged his knee when Takayasu threw him off the dohyo). As of this writing, there has been no public statement about how he’s doing, but at least he hasn’t told the Sumo Association that he needs a kyujo day to recover. He’s 6–4 so far this basho, which is terrific for an M4 ranked rikishi . . . but he has to get two more wins or it’s all for naught. Good performances don’t mean anything unless they’re done as part of a kachi-koshi [majority of wins] overall record. If he DOES get eight or more wins (and it seems VERY likely he will) Ura can count on getting at least one special prize at the tournament’s conclusion. 

On the other end, no one other than Hakuho has handled Ura so dominantly as Takayasu did yesterday. He’s having a terrific outing in this shin-ozeki basho [debut tournament as an ozeki]. Yesterday’s win got him his kachi-koshi, and he’s looking strong and confident as he moves toward double-digit wins (something EVERY ozeki should use as the baseline for an “acceptable performance” . . . but too often in recent years has been a stretch for half of the current ozeki). 

On the down side, M16 Gagamaru and M14 Kotoyuki are both 3–7, only one loss away from make-koshi [majority of losses] and far enough down the banzuke that they’re likely to be demoted to Juryo if they have an overall losing record. As it happens, M9 Okinoumi, M4 Kagayaki, and M1 Shodai are also sitting at that cusp, while M7 Takanoiwa, M3 Ikioi, and M1 Takakeisho are 2–8 and already locked in make-koshi. But none of them are ranked low enough that they have to immediately worry about dropping out of the top division. That having been said, once you hit double-digit losses you never know how far the Kyokai [Sumo Association] will drop you on the next banzuke [ranking sheet], so they’d better do what they can to grab as many wins as possible.

M16 Gagamaru (3–7) vs. M9 Okinoumi (3–7)—This match is as far from the yusho [tournament championship] race as you can get—two rikishi who must win out the remainder of their matches in order to get kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. Gagamaru only just returned to the top division this basho, and he holds the lowest spot on the banzuke, so a loss will guarantee him a demotion back down to Juryo. Okinoumi has clearly been injured all tournament, but he needs to notch a few more wins or he might risk being dropped all the way out of the Makuuchi Division. Desperation makes for exciting sumo. (2:30)

M8 Aoiyama (9–1) vs. M15 Nishikigi (5–5)—Aoiyama seemed to straighten out his focus yesterday, and he’s still the sole competitor one win behind the leader. Pretty soon the Kyokai [Sumo Association] will start pushing him up the banzuke to fight higher ranked opponents, so he’d better take advantage of this kind of pairing while they last. Of course, while Nishikigi is ranked down at M15, he started the basho with four straight wins and was on the leaderboard into last weekend, so he’s not a complete pushover. (4:05)

M13 Takarafuji (8–2) vs. M6 Onosho (8–2)—Two of the three rikishi currently tied for third place . . . only one of them will remain there after today. Takarafuji is the former sanyaku-ranked rikishi who’s starting a comeback, and Onosho is the young upstart who is excelling while at the highest ranking of his career. (5:35)

Ozeki Takayasu (8–2) vs. sekiwake Tamawashi (5–5)—Takayasu looked strong yesterday against Ura. Today, he’s back facing a more classic sumotori in the rock-steady sekiwake. The ozeki can’t afford another loss or he’ll fall out of all likely contention for the yusho. (9:55)

M4 Ura (6–4) vs. ozeki Goeido (5–5)—Ura faces another ozeki today, this time the inconsistent Goeido. On his good days, Goeido can handle him as easily as Takayasu did yesterday. On bad days, though, I’d give the edge to Ura. Of course, the question remains of how bad Ura’s knee injury is, and whether it will affect his energetic style of sumo. (10:50)

Yokozuna Hakuho (10–0) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (7–3)—Hakuho is still looking strong and in control. He needs only one more win to tie former-ozeki Kaio as the all-time leader in career wins. His opponent today is young, sekiwake Mitakeumi, but he has beaten Hakuho once already in his short career, which makes him a dangerous opponent. (12:05)

SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 (Day 10)

It’s Day 10 of the Nagoya Basho, and yokozuna Hakuho is still alone at the top of the leaderboard and still undefeated. However, ozeki Takayasu’s loss to komusubi Yoshikaze yesterday means that there’s only one rikishi a single win off the lead, and that’s M8 Aoiyama (who only narrowly escaped defeat yesterday, too). There are four 7–2 rikishi still hoping for the leaders to stumble—Takayasu, M6 Onosho, M10 Chiyotairu, and M13 Takarafuji.

The biggest non-yusho [tournament championship] news yesterday was M4 Ura beating yokozuna Harumafuji in their first ever meeting (and just Ura’s second ever match against ANY yokozuna) securing his first kinboshi [gold star award for a rank-and-file rikishi beating a yokozuna]. He was all kinds of adorable in the post-match interview, not knowing what to say, or possibly even where he was. He even shed a tear or two of joy. Today he gets to face Takayasu, so expect THAT to be one of the day’s top matches.

Right now the yusho race hangs on how long Aoiyama can keep winning, and how many rikishi are fighting well enough to even give Hakuho a serious challenge. One more loss for Aoiyama and suddenly the nearest challengers will need Hakuho to suffer TWO losses (while they suffer no more themselves) in order to get into a TIE. And, really, I don’t see anyone other than Harumafuji and Takayasu giving Hakuho a serious challenge (perhaps Goeido if he’s having one of his best days). All the other serious challengers are either kyujo [withdrawn due to injury] or have already had their matches against Hakuho. After starting like a basho that looked like it was going to go down to the wire with several surprise rikishi vying for the yusho, we now have to face the possibility that Hakuho may have sewn up the championship by the time Thursday’s action is done (though admittedly, while possible it is still highly unlikely).

Let’s just keep our fingers crossed for some exciting sumo over the remaining six days . . . lots of genki sumo, and no further injuries.

M8 Aoiyama (8–1) vs. M10 Chiyotairyu (7–2)—Aoiyama had a narrow escape yesterday, but in sumo that doesn’t matter. All that matters is whether you notched a “W” or an “L.” Of course, a near loss can shake a rikishi’s confidence and leave him more vulnerable in the next few bouts. Aoiyama’s lucky in that his match today is not particularly challenging (an opponent who is significantly below him on the banzuke [ranking sheet]), but it remains to be seen where Aoiyama’s head is at. (3:40)

M2 Tochinoshin (5–4) vs. M6 Ichinojo (4–5)—Two of the biggest of the big men who both like to do gritty power sumo. When these two square off, it’s often a long, grunty battle. You know my heart is with Tochinoshin. (5:55)

Komusubi Kotoshogiku (3–6) vs. ozeki Goeido (5–4)—These two were “equals” as ozeki for several years, and that’s going to color all of their future matches now that Kotoshogiku has fallen back to the general ranks. In his mind, he will always be Goeido’s equal (or senior, since he became an ozeki first) and will want to prove it. For Goeido’s part, he is STILL an ozeki and therefore the clearly above Kotoshogiku in status and skill. (10:10)

Ozeki Takayasu (7–2) vs. M4 Ura (6–3)—Ura just went 1–1 against the yokozuna, now he’s going to take his shot at an ozeki. Meanwhile, Takayasu has to rebound from his unexpected loss to Yoshikaze yesterday. This will probably be the best match of the day. (10:40)

Yokozuna Hakuho (9–0) vs. M5 Chiyoshoma (4–5)—Since Hakuho is the sole leader at this point in the basho, his matches are ALL must-watch events . . . even when he’s facing someone that he should beat without any trouble. (13:10)

SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 (Day 9)

Week 2 of the Nagoya kicks off with one man undefeated and alone atop the leader—yokozuna Hakuho. He’s 8–0, one win away from tying the 58th yokozuna Chiyonofuji for second place on the all-time career wins  chart, and just four wins away from passing the great former ozeki Kaio for top honors in that category. Hakuho is looking energetic and inspired this tournament, so it’s going to take some equally inspired sumo to derail him.

Tied for second place here on Day 9 with matching 7–1 records are shin-ozeki Takayasu and M8 Aoiyama. And behind them, just four rikishi are still ostensibly in the hunt for the yusho with 6–2 records—yokozuna Harumafuji, M6 Onosho, M10 Chiyonokuni, and M13 Takarafuji.

One of the most interesting matches for me yesterday was the first-time meeting between Hakuho and M4 Ura. For the past six months we’ve been watching Ura make his way up the Maegashira ranks and noting how even some very accomplished rikishi had trouble adapting to his size and style of sumo. Hakuho, however, seemed not the least bit fazed. Indeed, he was inconrol from the instant of the tachi-ai [initial charge] and in just a dozen seconds or so left Ura flat on his back, nose bloodied, and wondering what the heck had happened. 

Today Ura will get a chance to discover if that was just Hakuho’s magic touch, or if that’s what it’s like to face a yokozuna, as he’s scheduled to face Harumafuji today. Meanwhile, Hakuho will fight another new face—the other M4, Kagayaki, who will hope to at least avoid the bloody nose that Ura suffered. 

M15 Chiyomaru (4–4) vs. M10 Shohozan (5–3)—Two rikishi still on the cusp between kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and make-koshi [majority of wins] and going all out to advance their cause. One of the hardest fought matches of the day. (3:20)

M8 Aoiyama (7–1) vs. M11 Chiyonokuni (3–5)—Aoiyama got buffaloed by Onosho yesterday and knocked off the top of the leaderboard. The question is, can he get himself back in focus and return to his winning ways, or has his magic bubble been burst? (4:47)

Ozeki Takayasu (7–1) vs. komusubi Yoshikaze (4–4)—Takayasu shouldn’t have any trouble hitting kachi-koshi in his debut basho as an ozeki, but he’ll have to do well in Week 2 against fellow ozeki and the yokozuna if he wants to reach double-digits. He’d do himself a big favor today by shutting down giant-killer Yoshikaze, who has already notched wins against two yokozuna and an ozeki this tournament. (11:06)

M4 Ura (5–3) vs. yokozuna Harumafuji (6–2)—Ura got completely schooled in his first ever match against a yokozuna yesterday. We’ll see if he learned anything in particular from that experience. After a slow start, Harumafuji has looked rock solid, but he rarely faces opponents who can match him in speed like Ura can. Luckily, the yokozuna still has experience and tenacity on his side. (12:35)

Yokozuna Hakuho (8–0) vs. M4 Kagayaki (3–5)—Hakuho remains laser focused and in terrific shape physically. Yesterday, he beat an opponent who was equally in the groove . . . his opponent today isn’t nearly that on the ball. Kagayaki is a strong up and coming rikishi, but he’s still learning the ropes when it comes to fighting against top-ranked opponents. (13:25)

SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 Nakabi [Middle Day] (Day 8)

It’s nakabi [the middle day] of the Nagoya Basho and the leaderboard has simplified significantly. At the top, still undefeated, we have yokozuna Hakuho and M8 Aoiyama. However, all but one of the one-loss rikishi stumbled for a second time on Saturday, leaving just shin-ozeki Takayasu in second place with a 6–1 record. 

What a strange affair Week 1 was, starting with five of seven “champion” level rikishi losing on Day 1, and four rikishi going kyujo [absent for injury] (including two yokozuna and an ozeki). A pack of young rikishi have been holding tight one or two losses from the top and grabbing upset victories over top-ranked veterans. 

On the other hand, Takayasu is putting in a strong performance in his first tournament at the rank of ozeki. (Many shin-ozeki [newly promoted ozeki] struggle with that and put in flat performances in their initial outings.) And Hakuho has been inching closer to the all-time record for career wins. As of today, he needs only 5 more to add that honor to the many other records he’s already set in his illustrious career . . . oh, and he may be on his way to having back-to-back zensho yusho [perfect record tournament championships].

Perhaps most surprising of all, Bulgarian rikishi Aoiyama is having the tournament of his career, tied for the lead on Nakabi and still seeming calm and focused in his sumo (something he often seems to struggle with).

What have we got coming in Week 2? I hardly dare guess . . . except to say that it will surely be exciting sumo!

M11 Chiyonokuni (2–5) vs. M16 Gagamaru (2–5)—Two rikishi near the bottom of the banzuke [ranking sheet] (in Gagamaru’s case, VERY close) who are having pretty bad tournaments. Each can only spare two more losses or they’ll be make-koshi [majority of losses] and face the likelihood of demotion to Juryo. (1:45)

M10 Chiyotairyu (5–2) vs. M12 Arawashi (5–2)—I have no idea what happened in this match. Usually I’m skeptical of calls of yaocho [match fixing], but sometimes you see a loss so inexplicable it seems impossible not to at least CONSIDER the possibility. Watch this match (particularly the slo-mo replay) and see what you think. (2:55)

M6 Ichinojo (3–4) vs. M8 Ishiura (3–4)—The smallest rikishi in the top division against one of the largest. We love these matches because they highlight the raw meritocracy of sumo. It doesn’t matter how big or small or old or heavy you are . . . all that matters is whether you win or lose. (5:05)

M8 Aoiyama (7–0) vs. M6 Onosho (5–2)—Co-leader Aoiyama today faces one of the brightest young stars in the sport today, Onosho.  Based on their strong performances in Week 1, both of these rikishi can expect to be bumped up to face higher ranked opponents in Week 2. But first one of them has to prove himself the better man today. (5:40)

Ozeki Takayasu (6–1) vs. M5 Chiyoshoma (3–4)—Takayasu is looking strong in his debut tournament as an ozeki, and he’s the only rikishi still one win behind the leaders. He has to finish this basho strong, crushing lower-ranked opponents like Chiyoshoma and hope that the leaders stumble along the way. (9:46)

Yokozuna Hakuho (7–0) vs. M4 Ura (5–2)—Hakuho is only 2 wins away from passing the great Chiyonofuji for the #2 spot on the Most Career Wins list. Today that means beating probably the hottest of the up-and-coming sumo class of 2017, Ura. This is the first time these two have ever fought, I can’t remember ever having seen Hakuho have to face a “mighty might” of an opponent. It’ll be interesting to see what tactics he chooses. For certain we can expect Ura to bring his fearless direct assault and try to dive below the yokozuna’s defenses. I’m really looking forward to this one.  (10:35)

SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 (Day 7)

We’re into the middle weekend of the 2017 Nagoya Basho, and ony a pair of rikishi come in with perfect 6–0 records—yokozuna Hakuho and M8 Aoiyama. Behind them is a quintet of challengers with just a single loss—ozeki Takayasu, M4 Ura, M5 Tochiozan, M6 Onosho, and M15 Nishikigi.

Interstingly, three of those names belong rikishi who weren’t even in the top division a year ago (well, the 2016 Nagoya Basho was Nishikigi’s Makuuchi Division debut). Onosho in particular has been putting on an impressive demonstration of fearless sumo, He hasn’t had to face any of the sanyaku rikishi yet (in this or ANY tournament), but that time is coming soon (probably during this basho if he keeps up his winning ways). It will be interesting to see how he handles the challenge when it comes.

M11 Chiyonokuni (1–5) vs. M15 Nishikigi (5–1)—It really shouldn’t be a surprise that Nishikigi is doing so well, given his current ranking of M15. He had a particularly bad tournament in May, but he’s one of the young up-and-comers, and is back on track this basho while having to face the wobbliest of competition. Starting here, they’ll begin to schedule him against higher ranked opponents, particularly ones that didn’t do terribly well in Week 1 . . . like Chiyonokuni. Nishikigi’s first goal is to get his kachi-koshi [majority of wins] as quickly as possible, THEN worry about whether or not he’s still in the mix for the yusho [tournament championship]. (1:38)

M6 Ichinojo (3–3) vs. M8 Aoiyama (6–0)—Aoiyama is a co-leader at this point, so I’ll be keeping a close eye on him while that remains true. And it should for as long as he’s fighting other mid-ranked rikishi. Today the bulging Bulgarian faces off against one of the only opponents who match him in size and weight. Big men doing big-man sumo. (4:00)

M6 Onosho (5–1) vs. M4 Kagayaki (2–4)—Onosho is doing terrific so far, showing confidence and skill . . . very much the way Kagayaki did in previous tournaments. Onosho is doing SO well that he’s just one win behind the leaders. Kagayaki, on the other hand, has been struggling against higher ranked opponents so far this week, and that’s something Onosho will have to be wary of as he rolls into Week 2. (5:12)

M4 Ura (5–1) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (4–2)—Another pair of young upstarts square off in this match, and again one of them is one win behind the leaders. Ura has quickly become a crowd favorite while Mitakeumi is looking very comfortable in his new rank of sekiwake (the third highest in the sport). This could be the match of the day. (6:13)

Ozeki Takayasu (5–1) vs. M1 Shodai (2–4)—After a shaky start on Day 1, Takayasu has looked very confident in his first tournament at the rank of ozeki. He’s gotten back to the dominant ways that secured him that promotion, and that’s kept him one win behind the leaders. One expects him to have an easy time with Shodai, but you never can tell . . . especially in the middle weekend! (7:16)

SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 (Day 6)

Day 6 of the Nagoya Basho and we lose not one but TWO more of the big name rikishi to kyujo [withdrawal due to injury]. Immediately after yesterday’s matches, yokozuna Kisenosato went directly to the hospital to have his ankle looked at (presumably injured in his tumble from the dohyo in his loss to M3 Ikioi). Word is that there was no structural damage to the bones, and there was some thought that Kisenosato might come back to “fight through the pain.” Thankfull, he’s decided that resting that injury, not to mention his still ailing left shoulder, provides a better chance for him to come back FULLY healed for September’s Aki Basho in Tokyo.

Speaking of “fighting through the pain,” ozeki Terunofuji has made that something of his trademark over the past eighteen months, and struggled because of it. In fact, he’d already announced that this was his plan again for the current basho, but apparently getting bodily thrown off the dohyo everyday by rikishi half his size has convinced him otherwise. Terunofuji is also going kyujo as of Friday.

This makes a total of FOUR top-name rikishi out after just the first five days of the tournament, leaving opportunities galore for young, hungry sumotori to step up and stake a claim to the title “next great rikishi” . . . or for Goeido or Takayasu to step up and make a case for being considered for yokozuna promotion. But first, they’re going to have to get past Hakuho, who himself must be thinking that this makes it even more likely that he’ll reach a dozen wins the basho and break the all-time record for most career wins AND do so while logging back-to-back zensho yusho [undefeated tournament championships].

Basically, what was already a wide-open, wildly unpredictable tournament has now had BOTH those descriptions turned up to eleven (maybe even higher).

M11 Daishomaru (3–2) vs. M10 Shohozan (3–2)—These are two bruisers who are mostly known for their tenacity (as opposed to technical skills), which means the match is likely going to go to the one who flat out refuses to lose (as opposed to the one who figures out how to win). (3:27)

M7 Takanoiwa (0–5) vs. M8 Aoiyama (5–0)—Aoiyama is looking focused this tournament, which is not something that one often gets to say. Given his relatively low ranking, and the shake ups near the top of the banzuke, this gives him a fantastic chance to stay atop the leaderboard deep into Week 2. (5:20)

M5 Chiyoshoma (2–3) vs. M6 Ichinojo (3–2)—This basho Ichinojo is back down the banzuke to a level where he can dominate, but that doesn’t always mean that he will. This is a terrific match as Chiyoshoma tries to find the secret to somehow toppling the lumbering behemoth. (6:10)

Komusubi Yoshikaze (4–1) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (3–2)—Two rikishi who have been stealing wins from the ozeki and yokozuna today face off against each other. (8:28)

Ozeki Takayasu (4–1) vs. M2 Tochinoshin (2–3)—Two big strong rikishi who like to perform power sumo, both of them having pretty good tournaments so far. This is the match I was looking forward to most on today’s schedule. (9:55)

SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 (Day 5)

Day 5 of the Nagoya Basho dawns with a bit of bad news—M3 Endo has gone kyujo [withdrawn from the tournament due to injury] because of an ankle injury that it’s said will take at least two months to heal. Adding to yokozuna Kakuryu’s withdrawal yesterday, we’re seeing yet another thing that makes this basho different than most others . . .  and early rash of injuries.

Of course, the BIG difference is way most of the top-rankers have suffered multiple losses in the early days of Week 1, leaving the yusho [tournament championship] race wide open for a dark horse to seize control of. Well, except of course for yokozuna Hakuho, who continues the dominance he displayed in his zensho [perfect record] yusho in May. Yesterdays bizarre stand off against Takakeisho is the kind of thing that only happens when a rikishi is brimming with strength and confidence.

M16 Gagamaru (1–3) vs J1 Kaisei (3–1)—The Georgian rikishi Gagamaru only just fought his way back up to the top division after half a year in Juryo. But the way he’s been performing so far, it seems likely that he’s headed right back down unless he can stave off make-koshi [majority of losses]. Today he faces Brazilian rikisi Kaisei who just dropped to Juryo this tournament and is trying to win his way right back to the top division, and is making a good show of it so far. This match may well predict which of these rikishi we’ll see competing in the Maegashira ranks come September’s Aki Basho. (0:10)

M2 Tochinoshin (2–2) vs. M4 Ura (3–1)—A great match that pits completely opposite rikishi against each other. On the one side is the Georgian bear of a rikishi, Tochinoshin, who is all about raw power and overwhelming his opponents. On the other side is small, fast, and clever Ura who relies on speed and trickery to overcome opponents who generally are significantly bigger than he is. (8:40)

Sekiwake Tamawashi (3–1) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (2–2)—The two sekiwake, both of whom are looking very strong so far this tournament, go head-to-head today. I must admit, I’ve been lulled by Tamawashi’s quiet, unflashy style over the past few tournaments and probably haven’t given him the attention he’d deserved. After all, this is his third basho in a row as a sekiwake, and his fourth in a row in sanyaku. He very quietly has been putting up solid winning performances in the sport’s most difficult ranks. On the other side, Mitakeumi came up through the ranks like lightning and does have a flashy way about him. He’s had a more seesaw record than Tamawashi over the past year, but he’s also put up many more marquee wins and shown up in the interview room far more often. Here’s a chance for them to PROVE which sekiwake really is better. (9:20)

M1 Shodai (1–3) vs. ozeki Goeido (2–2)—Neither one of these rikishi has looked particularly sharp this basho. Well, that’s not really fair. On half the days, Goeido has looked VERY sharp . . . like he deserves his ozeki rank and can challenge just about anyone on a given day. It’s the other half of the days that I have a problem with. On those days he just looks lost, like he forgot why he’s here and he has no interest in figuring it out. Now, for most rikishi that’d be fine. Their fate on the banzuke would be to bounce up anddown depending on their overall tournament records. As an ozeki, though, Goeido has been thoroughly shielded from suffering the consequences of his unpredictability. Honestly, I would LOVE it if Goeido would perform up to his potential most of the time and become a worthy ozeki. But if he can’t do that, I want him to fail out of the position and go mix it up with the rest of the “elevator rikishi.” (11:00)

Yokozuna Hakuho (4–0) vs. komusubi Yoshikaze (4–0)—The only two remaining undefeated sanyaku rikishi go head-to-head in today’s final match. Both are looking strong, though the nod as always has to go to Hakuho. But it’s hard to count Yoshikaze out, especially since he’s already beaten two yokozuna, an ozeki, and a sekiwake this tournament. (13:25)

SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 (Day 4)

Holy cats! It’s just Day 4 of the Nagoya Basho and already we’ve got a leaderboard forming! After yesterday’s matches there are just five undefeated rikishi remaining, and only two of them are of sanyaku rank! Our 3–0 rikishi are yokozuna Hakuho, komusubi Yoshikaze, M6 Onosho, M8 Aoiyama, and M15 Nishikigi. Of course, there are still sixteen rikishi with just one loss, so it will be a few days at least until we get a real yusho [tournament championship] race starting to coalesce. In the meanwhile, we’ve got a wildly unpredictable tournament going on.

The biggest news of the day is that we have our first kyujo [withdrawal for injury]. Yokozuna Kakuryu has pulled out of the tournament citing a strained ligament in his right leg. 

One thing you may want to notice during the remaining twelve days is just how HOT it is. The rikishi will be sweating from the moment they enter the stadium. The audience will be constantly fanning themselves (sometimes so vigorously that the broadcast mics will pick up a faint hum from the swishing of the handheld fans). And the dohyo will have more cracks in its side than at most honbasho [grand tournaments].

Nagoya is in central Japan, where the average July temperatures run around 90F and the humidity generally runs about 90%. And the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium does not have any air conditioning. I’m given to understand that with a full crowd at the end of a hot day, the temperature on the dohyo is usually over 100F and the air is so moist it can trigger asthma attacks.

But sumotori don’t care about any of that. All they know is that 8 wins means promotion and 8 losses means demotion, no matter what the weather conditions!

M4 Ura (2–1) vs. M6 Onosho (3–0)—Two of the hottest young rikishi squaring off against each other. And the match is every bit as exciting as you’d hope it would be! (7:17)

Ozeki Takayasu (2–1) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (2–1)—Takayasu is trying to get himself comfortable in his new ozeki rank, and Mitakeumi continues to be a threat to ANY champion (having already beaten a yokozuna this basho). (9:57)

Ozeki Terunofuji (1–2) vs. M2 Hokutofuji (2–1)—Hokutofuji has already beaten Takayasu and Kakuryu, can he add the ailing Terunofuji to his hit list? And just how bad is Terunofuji’s situation? He came out and promised that he’d fight for all fifteen days, but he really SEEMS like he’d be better off taking the tournament off and resting. (11:00)

Yokozuna Hakuho (3–0) vs. M1 Takakeisho (1–2)—This is one of the strangest bouts I’ve ever seen. Seriously, just sit back and enjoy the weirdest “maneuver” you’re likely to ever see. (12:50)

SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 (Day 3)

It’s only Day 3 of the Nagoya Basho and already a yokozuna and a pair of ozeki have two losses apiece. This really seems like the kind of tournament where ANYTHING could happen!

Yokozuna Harumafuji had better snap out of whatever is bothering him quickly. He hasn’t exactly looked bad in his two losses, but he sure hasn’t looked focused. The Kokai [Sumo Association] were already beginning to make noises about it being time for him to retire last tournament (where he looked pretty good until he turned his ankle). If he’s going to fall into a pattern of losing multiple times in Week 1, they’re going to do more than just grumble . . . and he may find his fate decided for him. (Yes, the Sumo Association can FORCE a yokozuna to retire. They just don’t like to be so unsubtle unless their will is outright flaunted.)

Ozeki Goeido ALSO seems to be falling back into old bad habits. In both of his matches so far he was out-thought and out-fought, leaving him looking befuddled as he bowed and exited the dohyo. He’s got to rack up at least five wins in Week 1 if he wants a realistic chance at kachi-koshi [majority of wins] . . . and really an ozeki should be aiming for double-digit wins. If he loses even one more match this week, I predict that he’ll be kadoban [threated with ozeki demotion] AGAIN in September.

Ozeki Terunofuji clearly is still recovering from his surgery. I can only hope that his oyakata [coach] prevails upon him to go kyujo [absent for injury] before he gives himself a major setback. However, this is the guy who when clearly injured stayed in a tournament and pulled in the worst ozeki record of all-time (2–13) just because he was too proud to take a few days off.

There are a few other popular rikishi who already show clear signs of injury. Both M3s, Endo and Ikioi, seem to be having leg problems, and M9 Okinoumi can barely put any pressure on his left foot. It wouldn’t surprise me to see all of them withdraw before the full fifteen days have elapsed.

Let’s hope, though, that everyone at least looks healthier today.

M11 Chiyokuni (0–2) vs. M9 Okinoumi (0–2)—Two pretty good rikishi who have started the tournament terribly. They’re both real fighters, though, and one of them will get to turn his fortunes around today. (2:55)

M4 Ura (2–0) vs. M4 Kagayaki (0–2)—It’s always fun to watch Ura, especially when he’s squaring off against someone much larger than he is. (4:45)

Sekiwake Tamawashi (2–0) vs. komusubi Yoshikaze (2–0)—Two sanyaku rikishi who are on a roll early in the tournament. Yoshikaze has beaten an ozeki and a yokozuna already (Goeido and Harumafuji), and Tamawashi has beaten an ozeki (Terunofuji). But only one of them gets to remain unbeaten after today. (6:10)

Ozeki Terunofuji (0–2) vs M3 Ikioi (0–2)—These two have both started slowly, and are looking for a way to turn their fortunes around. You can count on spirited sumo, but each also is nursing one or more injuries that leave them vulnerable. (7:55)

M2 Hokutofuji (1–1) vs. yokozuna Kakuryu (2–0)—Hokutofuji has made a rapid ascent up the banzuke, and this is his first match EVER against a yokozuna. (10:20)

Yokozuna Kisenosto (1–1) vs. M2 Tochinoshin (1–1)—Tochinoshin gave his usual strong effort against Hakuho yesterday, but came up short. He’ll probably take the same tactic against another yokozuna today, but Kisenosato’s left arm is clearly still bothering him, and that might give the Georgian rikishi an opening to apply his powerful attack. (11:30)

SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 (Day 2)

It’s Day 2 of the Nagoya Basho and already there’s been a BUNCH of surprises. All the ozeki and half of the yokozuna lost their opening matches! More than anything else, this certainly brings home the notion that the sport of sumo is sitting at the crossroads of a generational shift. The old guard isn’t as invincible as they once seemed, and the new “kids” are coming into their own and are ready to show the world what they’ve got. 

One sign of this is the number of former sanyaku-level rikishi who are now in the bottom third of the banzuke [ranking sheet], along with a bunch of others who over the last few years have often been in ranked at M1–3. Look at all the familiar names ranked M10 or lower—Takarafuji, Kotoyuki, Shohozan, Takekaze, Sokokurai, Arawashi, and Gagamaru (who only just fought his way back up from the Juryo division).

On the other hand, look at all the relatively young rikishi who are debuting at their highest rank ever—Ishiura (M8), Onosho (M6), Kagayaki (M4), Ura (M4), Hokutofuji (M2), Mitakeumi (sekiwake), and of course Takayasu (ozeki). There is a seismic shift in power (as measured by ranking) to the young folks. The question is who among them is strong enough to contend for the yusho (tournament championship)?

Guess we’ll just have to keep watching to find out. In the meanwhile, here are the best of today’s matches.

M6 Onosho (1–0) vs. M5 Tochiozan (1–0)—Onosho is one of the most exciting young rikishi to come break into the top division recently. Despite being only 21 years old, he fights with confidence and poise, and seems to have no fear or hesitation in the shadow any opponent, no matter what his rank. Tochiozan, on the other hand is the mirror-world Takayasu. Two years ago the pair seemed evenly matched and seemed to move up and down the banzuke in sync. In the last year, though, Takayasu has found his groove while Tochiozan continues to search for consistency. He has what it takes to be in sanyaku, or even to rise to ozeki . . . he just doesn’t always show it. (4:50)

M4 Kagayaki (0–1) vs. M3 Endo (0–1)—Kagayaki is a strange case. He’s tall, strong, and quick on his feet . . . but he doesn’t seem to have the “killer instinct” it takes to finish off opponents who refuse to fall after the first or second charge. He could be a contender if he would learn to go out and GET wins instead of waiting for them to happen to him. Today he’s facing Endo, another very popular rikishi with stellar skills, but a knack for FINDING ways to lose matches that he ought to win. (5:35)

Ozeki Takayasu (0–1) vs. M3 Ikioi (0–1)—After a surprise loss yesterday, Takayasu is still looking for his first win as an ozeki. Today he faces Ikioi, who lost because of an inadvertent step outside the ring (kind of an “unforced error”) on Day 1. Both are looking to change their fortunes right away. (7:30)

Komusubi Yoshikaze (1–0) vs. ozeki Goeido (0–1)—Yoshikaze started the tournament by proving why folks call him a “giant killer,” beating yokozuna Harumafuji on Day 1. Today he faces ozeki Goeido, who got out-muscled by Tochinoshin yesterday. Goeido needs to get as many wins as possible in Week 1 because he’s unlikely to do well against his fellow ozeki and the four yokozuna in Week 2, and he really NEEDS to stop this pattern of being kadoban (threatened with ozeki demotion) every other tournament. (8:00)

Yokozuna Hakuho (1–0) vs. M2 Tochinoshin (1–0)—Two of my favorite rikishi going head-to-head. Of course, in twenty-four previous matches Tochinoshin has NEVER managed to beat Hakuho even once. But he always comes back strong and puts in a good showing. This match is worth watching if only for the close up shot of Hakuho’s face in the middle of the bout. THAT’S a look of focus and determination … that’s the face of a YOKOZUNA! (8:30)

Yokozuna Kisenosato (0–1) vs. M1 Takakeisho (1–0)—This is the biggest, baddest, meatiest slap-fest of the day.  (10:00)